Grass Widow – Internal Logic

Grass Widow is a cool band! Yes, I just used an exclamation point. This San Francisco-based threesome –Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon and Lillian Maring- write simple garage rock songs that groove and bounce. Can you imagine a less glossy Lush coupled with a more serious Dead Milkmen, blended with some early Cure? This is Grass Widow.

Internal Logic, the band’s third release, is a serious pop album. But it’s not without its flaws. With the opening track, “Goldilocks Zone,” there is familiar feel that pulls the listener into the album. The harmonies that eventually give way to a chunky bass line and a Sebadoh-ish “Sixteen” spastic yet controlled guitar riff sets a mood that carries throughout most of the album. “A Light in the Static” is an unnecessary acoustic Sabbath “Laguna Sunrise” moment that just doesn’t fit. It just slows the ladies down. But, I would like to see the ladies explore this acoustic aspect in their future releases, because Grass Widow’s releases are beginning to run together in some formulaic fog. Also, The piano outro “Response to Photographers” should’ve been expanded upon or simply left off of the album; it kills the balance of the record. The ladies obviously have a real talent and ability to write intriguing, genre-bending songs. There just seems to be a musical hurdle that can’t quite overcome.

The fact that each band member takes on the singing duties is an attractive and tangible quality that gives their songs depth. I like the collective, musical Marxist feel of the group. At this point, I’m not sure I really care what the ladies are singing about, nor do I wonder what kind of narrative they’re trying to push, but their lyrics fit within the confines of their sound.

It’s refreshing to see three women in an indie rock group that don’t feel the need to adopt a Riot Girl aesthetic. Grass Widow is more intelligent than this. Internal Logic is a turning point for this garage rock trio; it is a solid and likable album that should push the ladies further in their career. It’s the kind of album one could build memories around. Needless to say, I’m just as excited about this album as I am with their future releases.

May 31, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Nutid – Cityflowers

Nutid is Håkan Åkesson and Åsa Jacobsson, a Swedish instrumental duo that have a penchant for developing vast and enveloping pastoral compositions that live and breathe within the frustrating confines of an album, much like a Jackson Pollack painting escapes the confines of an art museum. The art becomes larger than its surroundings.

Cityflowers, Nutid’s second album, is an accumulation of twelve beautiful tracks that create an inviting soundscape that often blooms and unfolds through the use of a gentle piano or a scale-climbing harmonica. Each track stands alone as an individual soundtrack to one’s life. When one interacts with art, one brings his/her own experiences to decipher or make sense of what the artist is trying to convey. Nutid’s songs become a sort of musical Rorschach test that forces the listener to confront certain distant memories, good or bad.

On a track like “Mona and Jag,” I’m instantly back in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, sifting through a handful of comic books as my mother prepares X-mas dinner in the late afternoon. “Black Flamingo” reminds me of sitting in the back row of church and feeling guilty for being alive. “Where I Am” conjures up the image of walking home after my car broke down. There is a simultaneous comfort and uneasiness that weaves in and out through the entire album. The uneasiness is a natural reaction to confronting old memories, and the comfort comes from Åkesson and Jacobsson’s thoughtful compositions.

That said, as an album, Cityflowers feels disjointed. Each track doesn’t seem to relate to one another; they seem like twelve separate mini compositions. This doesn’t take away from the beauty of the music, because Nutid’s music is heartfelt and insightful. It would be interesting to see Nutid to further develop their compositions and push them into longer pieces released on twelve-inch vinyl on six different records with two tracks on each record. This type of musical presentation would make one’s experience with Nutid more personal and powerful. Regardless, it seems to me that movie directors should experience Cityflowers and give the Swedish duo a chance to score their next film.

May 31, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Conversations with David Foster Wallace – Edited by Stephen J. Burn

David Foster Wallace claimed that he didn’t like to do interviews. He had problems with the give-and-take process of being interviewed. Even further, Wallace didn’t like the attention; he didn’t, for the most part, like being viewed as a rock star writer. In a letter to Don DeLillo Wallace expressed concern about how certain interviewers would comment on the persona he would adopt during the interview process; he was bothered by their offhanded comments on what he was wearing, how he ate, or what brand name products were strewn about his home. Yes, some of Wallace’s earlier interviews took place in his home, which Wallace later admitted was a tactical error.

From an outside’s point of view, interviewing Wallace would seem like an exciting and difficult task. There is a certain level of intimidation and apprehension that naturally occurs when asking questions of someone who is so sharp, intelligent, well read and ultra-conscious of the world around them. The fear of asking Wallace the proverbial stupid question would be a stress that would hang over the interview like a spiteful specter. It’s interesting to note, on Wallace’s English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction syllabi from Fall ‘94, Wallace wrote: “Anybody gets to ask any question about any fiction-related issues she wants. No question about literature is stupid. You are forbidden to keep yourself from asking a question or making a comment because you fear it will sound obvious or unsophisticated or lame or stupid. Because critical reading and prose fiction are such hard, weird things to try to study, a stupid-seeming comment or question can end up being valuable or even profound.”

Not sure if this statement on his syllabi would put an interviewer’s mind at ease, but it would give him/her a reference point to help maneuver around Wallace’s genius. On a side note, Wallace’s English 102 required the class to purchase and read novels by Mary Higgins Clark, Jackie Collins, Thomas Harris, Stephen King and Larry McMurtry. What an amazing and thought-provoking class this must have been! Can you imagine Wallace explicating Collins’ Rock Star? Crazy.

Anyway, Wallace was right. Within this collection of interviews there are stupid questions asked about Wallace’s work, but the reader still benefits from these types of questions and receives special insight into Wallace’s writing. Or, at the very least, we occasionally get to see Wallace become a rhetoric and composition bully and call the interviewers out for their inane questions that don’t directly correspond to his writing. This academic posturing is most prevalent in Wallace’s two thousand and five interview with French journalist Didier Jacob.  Oddly, Jacob asked Wallace, “Could you describe a typical writing day, how you describe the Illinois State Fair of a tennis tournament?” Wallace replied, “I don’t understand how the two clauses in your question fit together. I have no ‘typical’ writing day” (155). The brief interview with Didier is full of Wallace-like moments where he analyzes and critiques the questions before giving the answers he thinks Didier is asking. Jacobs’ questions had little to do with Wallace’s work, and Wallace called Didier out on his question asking abilities.

The nineteen ninety-three interview with Hugh Kennedy and Geoffrey Polk for Whiskey Island, a literary magazine published by Cleveland State University, is insightful and candid. Even though Kennedy and Polk have a difficult time keeping up with Wallace, they were able to garner some of the most insight and seemingly honest responses from Wallace, especially in regards to his thoughts on MFA programs and the challenges contemporary/modern fiction writers face when writing. Also, Wallace shares an impromptu grocery store list of writers/books that he admired/loved to read.

For those who are not familiar with Wallace, the last addition to the text is an excellent place to start. David Lipsky’s The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace, original published in a two thousand eight issue of Rolling Stone, is a sensitive and insightful piece that gives the reader a thoughtful view into Wallace’s life and last days. The thoughts and feelings of Wallace’s sister, Amy Wallace Havens are heart wrenching as they strip Wallace of his superstar writer persona that was placed upon him by many in the academic world. Havens seems to be the only person to see Wallace for what he really was—an incredibly wonderful person who was truly a goofball.

If you’ve been following Wallace’s career, most of the interviews in this text are going to be extremely familiar. Also there is the obvious problem of accumulating twenty-some interviews into one text—the questions and answers can become redundant. Overall, editor Stephen J. Burn understood this inherent problem and he effectively chose and presented the proper interviews to avoid much of this expected redundancy.

It’s curious that this collection of interviews is titled Conversations with David Foster Wallace. I know the University Press of Mississippi has a long history of publishing collected interviews and titling them Conversations with. . . Maybe in the spirit of Wallace I’m being overly analytical, but the word conversation implies a somewhat relaxed interaction between two or more people. Since Wallace had a general dislike for interviews, outside of a few instances, I’m sure he wouldn’t consider this text to be full of conversations; he would view the book as an accumulation of questions and answers, especially considering the tennis match like written format chosen for most of the interactions. Would Interviews with David Foster Wallace be a more appropriate title? Maybe.

Conversations with David Foster Wallace is a text worthy of a place on your bookshelf. It is great to have a collection of Wallace interviews to rummage through and investigate. Wallace’s responses open up another area of the writer’s world to the reader, an area that showcases Wallace’s wit and genius. One could easily use this text as a sort of travel guide through many of Wallace’s essays and novels, or one can use it as an excellent introduction to a writer that will only grow in popularity and appreciation within the academic world.

May 18, 2012. Literature. Leave a comment.

Garbage – Not Your Kind of People

Seven years have passed since Garbage released their last album, Bleed Like Me. During the band’s hiatus the creative bookends of the band kept busy. Butch Vig produced, and Shirley Manson worked on an unreleased solo album while making her professional acting debut. The band came together, booked some studio time and completed their fifth studio album, Not Your Kind of People.

Garbage has always found a way to create songs that balance between glossy pop-electronica and dark alternative. There always seems to be something deeper in their songs that are hidden by a clean and shiny production. Well, the band picks up right where they burned out seven or eights years ago.

The album opens up with “Automatic Systematic Habit,” an upbeat, ready-for-radio song that builds around an obvious New Order bassline. As Manson declares that she wants to be “my dirty little secret,” it strikes me that the opening track sounds a little Miley Cyrus-ish. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think.

Buried within a bunch of pop-friendly tunes is “Not Your Kind of People,” a Beatlesque, Abbey Road era tune that is slow, thoughtful and well crafted that every outsider will find solace in. It’s a song like this that showcases Garbage’s ability and talent as a group. Simply put, it’s a beautiful track that will probably get lost in the ubiquitous, Adderall fueled pop noise that dominates the rest of the album. To be musically relevant and convincing, Garbage should build upon the title track and move away from their soundtrack heavy sound.

“I Hate Love” revisits the stereotypical Garbage sound that consists of a determined and enchanted Manson vocal carefully layered over a warm and driving melody made for dancing. It’s the blueprint for most every Garbage song ever released.

“Battle in Me” swims in familiarity and mediocrity. Manson’s lyrics, sung over stadium-sized sounds, are as forgettable as they are stale. “Get out of my face / Before I lose my patience.” I’m shaking. I get the feeling that Manson’s notebook is full of empty words and rehashed clichés that she tries to breathe life into with her energetic voice and her red painted lips.

The album ends with “Beloved Freak,” a retrospective singsong that seems out of place and derived. It’s b-side quality at best and should’ve been left off of the album. Dare I say that it is an anti-climatic way to end such an anticipated release? And would it hurt to spend a little more time on the album art?

If you’re a fan of Garbage, I’m sure you will not be disappointed with the band’s long awaited release. But, if you’re a casual Garbage listener, or if you’re new to their sound, you might see more flaws than sparkles. At this point, it’s best to purchase the title track and revisit or discover some of the band’s previous releases.

May 15, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Free Comic Book Day 2012: “Star Wars: The Art of the Bad Deal”

Shoot, Han! Shoot!

Han Solo and Chewbacca are paired together for this brief Rise of the Empire era adventure. The famous galactic partners have an argument after they lose money on a lucrative deal with Verhandle, a hard bargaining, green-cloaked gray alien-looking figure that doesn’t take kindly to his unidentified cargo arriving two days late. Even though Verhandle looks similar to a Duros, but with black eyes, I believe this is Verhandle’s debut to the Star Wars universe. And, of course, it’s probably a matter of time before he becomes an action figure. It’s also interesting to note that “verhandle” is German for “negotiate,” which is appropriate considering the humanoid’s uncanny bargaining skills.

Before Solo meets with Verhandle, he convinces Chewbacca to let him do the talking. Solo fails at holding his ground on their shipping fee, ultimately giving in to Verhandle and taking sixty percent of the previous agreed upon figure. Chewbacca, disappointed in the lower fee, plays the silent game with Solo when they take to the Millennium Falcon and put distance between themselves and the sneaky Verhandle. As the comic comes to an end, the galactic duo discovers and confronts some unwanted cargo.

While Verhandle negotiates the final shipping price, he tries to purchase the Millennium Falcon from Solo. Verhandle reveals to Solo that he has been told that the Millennium Falcon is an “impressive ship.” Solo corrects his alien customer by calling her (the Falcon) “amazing.” All true Star Wars fans will remember that in A New Hope Luke Skywalker calls the Millennium Falcon a “piece of junk.” Also, in the same film, Princess Leia, when first seeing Solo’s prized vessel sarcastically asks, “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.” Is the continuity of Star Wars being disturbed in this six-page comic?

Like most are saying, I do understand that this Star Wars comic was free, but “The Art of the Bad Deal” is a cheesy, six page, half-hearted story done on the fly to feed the always hungry Star Wars nerds that ascend on their local comic book store on Free Comic Book Day. I’m not sure if this offering from Dark Horse Comics will draw new readers in to the lonely world of comics.

The cover art is kinda bizarre and misleading. A gun drawing, glove-wearing Solo– sans his characteristic shock of chest hair– cradles a small box, while standing awkwardly with beady eyes and a Joker-like smile. Behind Solo stands a dead-eyed Chewbacca grasping a box, bearing his pointy teeth. Oddly, there are pink-colored lasers strategically zooming passed them, but Solo fails to return fire. Inside, the artwork is adequate. There is some artistic licensing taken in the drawing of Solo, but his likeness is close enough not to distract the reader.  Also, the dialogue is simplistic and limited. I suppose it is tough to build a conversation heavy book when Chewbacca, much like one of my old girlfriends, is limited to “HRRARRG” and “HRAAUUG.” Of course, Solo is a Wookie-whisper, so he’s able to carry on a conversation but the reader is left in limbo.

On a redeeming note, the inks and colors are impressive and attractive; they help create a beautiful, mysterious and moody atmosphere that plays well against the sarcastic nature of Solo’s character. I feel as though I am on the Millennium Falcon with our heroes. There is a minimalist feel that compliments the briefness of the story. The rendering of Verhandle and his outfit is attractive and appealing. I will be waiting to purchase the previously mentioned action figure to collect dust on one of my bookshelves.

In all fairness, “The Art of the Bad Deal” is not representative of Dark Horse’s other Star Wars comics. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars films or the Clone Wars cartoon, you should visit your local comic book store and purchase some of the Star Wars titles that Dark Horse distributes. In fact, check out the newly released “Star Wars: Blood Ties—Bobba Fett is Dead” #1. The artwork is beautiful, and the story is intriguing, even if you’re a casual Star Wars fan.

*Thanks to Mike B. and Tonya P. for being brave and entering his/her local comic book store and picking up a handful of comics for me on Free Comic Book Day. I’ll leave the house one of these days.

May 8, 2012. Comic Books. Leave a comment.